Text of Address at the Nadi Mahotsav in Dhaka – 08-10-2017
At the very outset, I respectfully bow before the cherished memory of a great Democrat, revered statesman and the most beloved leader of millions of Bangladeshis, Bangabandhu Sheik Mujib-ur Rehman. My hearty congratulations to the organisers of the second edition of the Nadi festival.
India and Bangladesh are divided by borders, but united by mighty rivers like Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna etc. In fact nearly 54 rivers gush across the boundaries of our two countries.
Rivers are not just carriers of waters. Great civilisations and cultures flourish on the banks of the mighty rivers. Rivers are the carriers of great value system that the cultures and civilisations represent. Whether it is Ganga or Padma (That is how Ganga is called in Bangladesh); Brahmaputra or Jamuna (again the local name in Bangladesh), they bond our two countries together through their waters as well as through the great cultural and civilisations values.
They unite us in our glory and in misery. Like many riverine civilisations, the Ganga – Brahmaputra basin too is home to world’s greatest thinkers, scholars and philosophers. Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindranath Tagore and many more had made this region their sacred through their lives and works. Incidentally this region is also home to the world’s largest number of poor people.
We have suffered enormously at the hands of the Colonialists for centuries. It all had ended up finally in a bloody partition. India has started its journey of independence seven decades ago. Bangladesh had to endure sufferings at the hands of its own new-Colonial masters for another 34 years before finally breathing freedom some 45 years ago.
Our sufferings have taught us great lessons of life. Our two countries are multi-religious societies. We have people professing different religions in our countries. We were ourselves victims of hatred and communalism in the run up to the partition.
We have been victims of terrorism, largely imported from a neighbourhood that has become the global epicentre of Jehadi terror.
Partition had led to waves of migration. Certain historical developments had also led to migrations in the past. We believed that as nations familiar with the trauma of migration, we would see the ceasing of migration, legal or illegal. Sadly new volatile regions in the neighbourhood are posing new challenges of migrants.
In this scenario, India and Bangladesh have so much in common to work together. We are united by a great culture and language. Together with history, our culture too can be a great teacher to us.
Together we should work for greater harmony and love. The minorities in our countries must feel secure and reassured. Together we must fight against terror and its sponsors. In fact together we have to take it to the world stage and unite the democratic world against this scourge of terrorism, in whatever name and form it is practised.
Radicalism is today posing a serious threat to several countries. Lone wolf attacks have become a routine menace in the West. We are no exception. India and Bangladesh regularly face terror and radicalisation. Let me remind to you the famous poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem ‘Ganga, Sindhu, Narmada ……’. In that poem he reminisces about the greatness of those rivers and raises the pertinent question, ‘While those great rivers are still flowing, where are those great people of virtue?’. We must strive to bring back values in the lives of our people. We shall not let them fall prey to radical ideologies.
India has fought back the scourge of radicalism and violent ideologies. In that the contribution of the Bangladesh government was immense. I wish to thank Madam Sheik Hasina profusely for her unstinting support to us in our campaign against hate and violence. But for that support India wouldn’t have succeeded in ending terrorism, especially in the North East.
Bangladesh too is fighting its battles against terror. India shall extend all its support and stand by it.
Our culture taught us love and concern for fellow humans. Migrations caused due to harsh communal flare ups in the neighbourhood test our commitment to the culture and tradition of our lands. We shall attend to the humanitarian needs of those suffering. India is always ready to assist Bangladesh in addressing the humanitarian concerns arising out of the Rohingya migrants. Prime Minister Modi has immediately despatched relief material upon receiving the request from Prime Minister of Bangladesh. We understand the enormity of the challenge that Bangladesh government is facing and shall ever be ready for further assistance if required.
Talking of humanitarian concerns, we must remember that we have huge populations in our respective countries, safeguarding of whose humanitarian and civic rights is our fundamental duty as governments. Safety and security of our own citizens is a concern of utmost importance for our governments. Problem of migrants needs to be looked into from that perspective too.
We should together appeal to the Myanmar government and its people to ensure peace and harmony in regions where the minority populations live. Myanmar is the land of Buddha’s message of peace and love. Large sections of Myanmaris are peace-loving people. We all should help nudge Myanmar government and its people towards bringing back those cherished values in regions badly affected by violence.
As I mentioned earlier, the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin is home the world’s largest population of the poor. Let us recall the famous song sung by the epic singer of Assam, Bhupen Hazarika – ‘Ganga Bahati ho Kyun?’
‘Vistar hai apaar, praja donon paar, kare hahakaar
Nishabd sada o’Ganga tum bahti ho kyun?’
– Millions living along the banks of mighty Ganga/Brahmaputra are suffering enormously; yet the river continues to gush down silently!
Hazarika was not really questioning the silence of river Brahmaputra through the scintillating song; he was trying to awaken the conscience of all of us. How can we remain mute witness to the poverty and backwardness of our own populations?
Together we should wage a war against poverty and backwardness. In India, Prime Minister Modi has been working hard to address the grievances and concerns of the last man on the street. Our inspiration is the ideological anchor of our party, Antyodaya – welfare and well-being of the last man.
But our commitment to end poverty doesn’t end at our borders. Prime Minister Modi had declared in his addressed to the Dhaka University students and eminent citizens two years ago that India believes in the dictum of ‘paas paas – saath saath’, meaning ‘we are close to each other; we should grow together’. Inspired by the vision of our Prime Minister, India shall always be ready to extend helping hand to Bangladesh in alleviating poverty and backwardness. Our High Commissioner tells me that a third of the entire line of credit that India extends to several countries in the world goes exclusively to Bangladesh. Close to $ 8 Billion has already been extended as line of credit to Bangladesh.
One important virtue that binds us together is democracy. Seven decades ago when India adopted democracy as the governance model, a senior Indian leader had called it the ‘second best form of governance’. When asked about the best system, his reply was ‘yet to be invented’. It is nobody’s case to claim that democracies are flawless. But through practice and perseverance we can strengthen them; not by boycotting them. India has achieved it. I am hopeful that people of Bangladesh, including leaders of various political parties, too work in the direction of strengthening democracy here, through participation and reform.
In Sheik Hasina’s government India has its best friend. PM Sheik Hasina is committed to peace, progress and development of Bangladesh. We are always ready to work hand-in-hand with Bangladesh government for the all round growth of our region and beyond.
Our rivers are carriers of our shared cultural values. We shall not let the streams dry up.. whether it is Ganga, or Brahmaputra or Teesta. Our rivers carry our love, goodwill and affection both ways. We are committed to making love and goodwill flow through our rivers, not discord and disharmony.
Jai Hind Jai Bangla